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Popularity Takeover

About The Book

Are the Ashleys finished forever, or can their enemy-turned-ally find a way to save them? Find out in the fourth and final book in The Ashley Project series from bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz.

Lauren Page thought her plan was pretty simple: Get a fabulous makeover, become one of the Ashleys, and once she was securely in their good graces, completely destroy them from the inside.

There’s only one little problem: Now that Lauren is seventh-grade royalty she isn’t so sure she wants to follow through—especially because Sadie, her former best friend and current best frenemy, has a new scheme to bring down the Ashleys.

So Lauren comes up with a different plan: save the Ashleys. But with Ashley Spencer dating a penniless boy, Lili shunning makeup and fashion, and A.A. questioning everyone’s loyalty, can it be done? Or will the Ashleys actually go down for good?


Popularity Takeover



IT WAS JUST OVER A month since Ashley Spencer’s blowout Super-Sweet Thirteen birthday party, and Lauren Page was still recovering from the excess of that celebration, not to mention exhaustion from her “relaxing” winter vacation in the Italian Alps. Her mother had determined that they would become part of the international jet set and had spent all of winter break dragging her family to a host of balls and benefits.

Lauren was glad to be back home for the first day of the spring semester. But she’d overslept that morning and was late meeting the other Ashleys—Miss Spencer herself, plus best friends Ashley “A. A.” Alioto and Ashley “Lili” Li—at the Fillmore Starbucks. In fact, she was so late that all the other girls already had their venti decaf soy lattes, each cup nestled into a matching pink cozy (designed by Ashley and handwoven by an artisans’ collective in Ecuador), and were waiting impatiently to climb the hill to Miss Gamble’s school.

There wasn’t even time for Lauren to order a drink—not that she particularly liked decaf soy lattes. But that wasn’t the point. Being in the Ashleys meant being the same as the Ashleys, right down to holding the cup in your left hand as a way of showcasing the Cartier Love bracelet that Ashley had gifted them with over the holidays.

“I almost took today off,” Ashley told them, leading the way up the street, her glossy blond hair bouncing in a high, sleek ponytail. “Cooper and I had the most amazing time yesterday. He knows all the best places in the city. We had the yummiest pizza in North Beach.” Cooper was Ashley’s new boyfriend. He was supposed to be some Greek shipping heir or something. Ashley kept mentioning he had a yacht.

“North Beach?” Lili wrinkled her pert little nose. “Since when do you hang out in North Beach, Ash?”

“Don’t worry, I’m not trying to wrestle away your Miss Boho title,” Ashley sniffed. Lauren suppressed a smile. There was nothing remotely bohemian about Lili. Her dark hair was always perfectly coiffed. Her school uniform looked like it was steam-pressed every night, and her patent leather Louboutin Mary Janes shone like a polished mirror.

“You guys, it’s too early for fighting,” protested A. A., who seemed very distracted this morning. Kind of dreamy—though, Lauren thought, A. A. often seemed to have her head in the clouds, just because she was so tall. “But, Ash, what were you doing in the city? I thought you guys went to St. Barts like always.”

“No, we were here the whole time. My mom didn’t feel like traveling.” Ashley shrugged. “Anyway, is Max still giving you the silent treatment, Lil?”

Lili nodded sadly.

“I have to do something,” she said, almost to herself, frowning down at the sidewalk. “I heard from my cousin who transferred to Reed that Max thought I was dating another guy behind his back! Can you imagine?”

Lauren felt sorry for her. Lili really seemed to like this guy Max, even though he went to Arthur Reed Prep School for the Arts, and not Gregory Hall, like all the Ashley SOA (Seal of Approval) boys.

Things were hard enough going out with a Gregory Hall boy, Lauren thought, especially ones like her boyfriend, Christian, who was busy with some sort of team practice at every spare moment. But trying to make it work with someone who went to a weirdo school—someone whose pseudo-alterno friends hated you, someone your parents had forbidden you ever to see again—had to be much more difficult.

“Hello!” Ashley swung around to admonish her entourage. “I haven’t finished my story yet! And we’re only going to have, like, five minutes on the bench today because Lauren didn’t make it on time!”

“Sorry,” Lauren called. Sitting on the stone bench outside Miss Gamble’s every morning was an important Ashleys tradition. From their throne near the front steps, the Ashleys could sit in fashion judgment on all the other girls trooping into school. It was their major bonding activity, not to mention (according to Ashley) a public service. How else would the students of the city’s most exclusive private girls’ school know if they were up to snuff?

Ashley picked up her pace, tromping up the hill in her killer heels, and Lauren scurried to keep up, wishing her bag wasn’t so heavy. The regulation Ashleys accessory was currently a Sac de Jour tote by Yves Saint Laurent. The bag looked great, but it wasn’t really practical for school, since you couldn’t carry that much in it. Oh well, Lauren couldn’t jeopardize her hard-won Ashley status by buying the wrong bag. Not right now, anyway, when she still had a secret mission to accomplish: dethrone the Ashleys.

Last year the Ashleys didn’t even know her name: Lauren was just one of those invisible dorks who got attention only when she snagged all the academic awards on Prize Day. But the summer before seventh grade, Lauren’s computer-geek dad hit the Internet jackpot, launching the family into the ranks of the mega-rich. The newfound wealth meant that Lauren was able to hit the “makeover” button hard. New hair (literally—her extensions alone cost in the five figures), new skin (spray-tanned weekly), new body (courtesy of a demanding physical trainer—how else do you get rid of baby fat?), new wardrobe (hello, Dior!), and a whole new attitude.

She was determined to use her money for good (like Bono) and change the world. She’d start with the seventh grade (charity begins at home, after all), by infiltrating the Ashleys’ ranks. So far, she’d succeeded in becoming one of them by getting them to pretend she was their friend for the sake of starring in a reality television show. The show was canceled halfway through the season, but somehow Lauren remained one of them for real without anyone noticing there was no more need to keep pretending.

Once Lauren got to know the Ashleys, however, she found there were cracks in her “foolproof” plan of social destruction. For one thing, she hadn’t counted on liking them. The Ashleys might be bratty and superior, but they could also be funny and fun to be around. Ashley’s three-ring circus of a birthday party had been a blast, and Lauren realized she would never have met her boyfriend (or had the opportunity to get back together with him) if it weren’t for the Ashleys.

“Maybe Lauren was out with Christian last night.” Lili darted an insolent look at Ashley’s narrow back. “You’re not the only one who has a boyfriend, you know.”

“No, um, I was just home . . . doing stuff,” Lauren said quickly, before Ashley and Lili could start bickering again.

“What, like playing dress-up with your new bestie?” Ashley clearly intended to punish Lauren for committing the worst possible crime: arriving after Ashley at Starbucks. Ashley liked to make a grand entrance with her adoring troops already assembled. Ashley made other people wait, not the other way around.

Lauren’s stomach churned nervously. It was the first time Ashley had ever mentioned that she’d noticed Lauren hanging out with Sadie Graham, her former best friend, who had returned to Miss Gamble’s earlier last semester.

“By the way, what is up with that girl?” asked A. A., licking soy foam off her lips. “One minute she’s a loser nobody, and the next she’s posing and pouting like she’s Dove Cameron! Before we left for break, I accidentally walked into her in the corridor on Friday, and she was all in my face, telling me to watch out. Actually, what she said was, ‘Watch where you’re going, Yao Ming!’”

“No!” chorused Lili and Ashley, united in their outrage. Nothing brought the Ashleys together like an attack from outside their exclusive ranks.

“Where does she get off?” asked Lauren, just as annoyed as they were. Really, she didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The new Sadie Graham was her own creation: Lauren had groomed, manicured, plucked, moisturized, dressed, and designed her—or at least, supervised all of the above by the most expensive stylists in the country doing so.

It had seemed so simple: If Sadie became one of the Ashleys, the two of them could cause in-fighting and suspicion, breaking up the band. Then the girls of Miss Gamble’s would be free from the tyranny of the Ashleys forever, making the Ashleys regular girls who didn’t feel the need to lord it over everyone else. A clique-free seventh grade! At least, that was the dream.

But this particular dream wasn’t really working out just yet. Sure, Sadie had turned into an Emma Stone clone overnight. But the new look seemed to come with a whole new personality.

The Sadie who Lauren knew was a smart, normal, down-to-earth girl who just needed to get rid of the glasses and the baggy clothes. Maybe all that French shampoo and flat-ironing had gone to her head, because since Ashley’s party, Sadie was revealing herself as a boy-mad megalomaniac. And so much for gratitude—in almost a month she’d barely spoken to Lauren, when without Lauren’s style intervention she’d still be a seventh grader non grata at Miss Gamble’s.

“How dare she call you a genetic freak?” Ashley was fuming. “Before my party, she looked like an owl who’d been left out in the rain! And she doesn’t look much better now, IMHO.”

“More like a spaniel,” sniffed A. A., swinging her overstuffed Saint Laurent bag as though she wanted to bowl Sadie Graham to the ground with it. “One of those stupid, small King Charles ones with the pudgy faces and flappy ears.”

“Or maybe a raccoon,” agreed Lili. “Especially with all that mascara she wears. She thinks she’s all that, but really, she’s just roadkill.”

“Yeah,” said Lauren. “Like a skunk.”

“She is kind of smelly.” Ashley giggled. “Cheap perfume! I can smell it from here.”

“Right.” A. A. laughed, tossing her empty cup into a trash can with ease. The ivy-covered stone facade of Miss Gamble’s loomed before them, a soft gray in the hazy winter light.

“No, I really can smell it from here. Excuse me?” Ashley stopped suddenly in her tracks, and they all stumbled into her, like bumper cars reaching a dead end.

“OMG!” gasped Lili.

“You gotta be kidding me.” A. A. shook her head so violently that one of her pigtails nearly took out Lauren’s eye. Lauren peered over Lili’s head to see what the trouble was. Was some notice posted on the double front doors banning heels higher than three inches or the wearing of James Perse T-shirts under their regulation V-neck school sweaters?

Oh no. Lauren could see: It was something much, much worse.

The Bench of Judgment—the Ashleys’ sacred space, reserved for them alone, was currently occupied. Lauren blinked. Were her eyes deceiving her? That girl dressed in a ruffled white blouse over a stylishly A-line plaid uniform skirt, her fingers thrumming a bronze metallic, gold-chained Marc Jacobs bag, her legs outstretched to reveal long gray-and-black argyle socks and a sharp pair of sleek, ankle-length Jimmy Choo booties. Was that really Sadie Graham?

And next to her, the girl with the adorable Alexa Chung bob, her bangs pinned back with a glinting barrette . . . that wasn’t Sheridan Riley, was it? As in Ashleys-wannabe, fawning sycophant Sheridan Riley?

Last semester, Sheridan’s bangs were still too short, and her handbag was Céline luggage, because all she wanted to do was to be an Ashley. Okay, sure, maybe Sheridan had donned a pair of knee-high boots just like the ones Sadie was wearing the last week of class, and Lauren remembered seeing Sheridan saving Sadie a seat in Latin, but she hadn’t thought too much of it.

But obviously a decision had been made over break. Sheridan’s hair was now a radiant, silvery blond, and the bag sitting next to her on the bench, which she was stroking like it was a pedigreed cat, was the new Louis Vuitton tote, with red patent leather straps and trim. Lauren gulped: Her mother was still on the waiting list for that bag! How?? Why?? And what were these girls doing sitting on the bench?

It was like a standoff in an old Western. Sadie and Sheridan looked over at the Ashleys and exchanged meaningful glances, s if to say, Game on. Lili’s mouth was an O of surprise, and A. A. was tapping one foot on the ground with irritation, but nobody said anything. Nothing like this had ever happened before in the history of Miss Gamble’s, as far as Lauren knew. She couldn’t help shivering. Ashley would never stand for this. There might be blood.

“Thanks so much for heating our seats for us, ladies,” Ashley said, in her most sarcastic voice. “But pish pish! The main attraction’s arrived. Time for the warm-up act to move on.”

She gestured with her latte cup toward the stairs. But Sheridan and Sadie didn’t move. They just looked at each other again and giggled.

“If you want ringside seats, you’d better arrive earlier,” Sadie said, coolly crossing her ankles. “It’s standing room only now.”

“In fact, you’d look good standing behind us,” gushed Sheridan. “No, really! You’re so matchy-matchy. You’d make a perfect backup band.”

Lauren felt her own mouth drop open. Did Sadie and Sheridan have any idea of what they were getting themselves into? Destroying the Ashleys took subtlety and behind-the-scenes manipulation. Not some two-girl revolution before class on a Monday morning.

“I can’t believe you, of all people, are daring to criticize us,” retorted Ashley, though it wasn’t clear if she was speaking to Sheridan or Sadie. She dropped her bag on the ground and settled her hands on her slender hips.

“Why?” Sadie stopped smiling. “Because you think you’re beyond criticism? Because you think you’re the only ones with a sense of style? Because you think you own this bench? The only thing you girls own is a set of yesterday’s bags and matching pairs of black tights.”

“Yeah,” snickered Sheridan. She’d obviously grown a new spine, Lauren thought. Could Sadie really have talked her into this? “Mary Janes are so sixth grade.”

“Don’t you think it’s time to stop wearing pigtails?” asked Sadie, staring straight at A. A., who looked too outraged to speak.

“And matching pink nail polish?” Sheridan sighed.

“Dude, that Love bracelet? So last season,” said Sadie, glancing disdainfully at Lauren. A cluster of girls wandered by, slowing their steps so they could watch the showdown between the Ashleys and their impostors. Usually everyone raced past the bench as fast as they could, to avoid fashion critiques. Today, however, nobody seemed to be in a hurry. Half of Miss Gamble’s was hanging out on the steps, listening intently to what was going on.

Lauren knew she should be pleased with this strange turn of events. After all, this was what she’d been working toward all last semester—the downfall of the Ashleys. But right now all she could feel was righteous indignation.

Sadie was nobody until Lauren had started helping her. And Sheridan always seemed perfectly content to play bridesmaid, basking in the glow of the Ashleys’ acceptance. Now here they were, mocking the very people whom they themselves had wanted to be—just last semester! It was audacious, all right. And it was just wrong. Lauren didn’t feel proud of Sadie, or warm toward Sheridan. She just felt incredibly frustrated. She’d wanted to destroy the Ashleys, yes, but not so that another snotty clique could take their place.

The bell for first period started chiming.

“Ta-ta!” Sadie waved her fingers at the Ashleys. “Better hurry into class now, like good little matching sheep! Wave good-bye to the Little Match Girls, Sher!”

Lauren bristled. She’d been a friend to Sadie when nobody else would give her old friend the time of day, especially not Sheridan Riley. Her plan was to turn Sadie into an ally, not an enemy, and certainly not into a snob monster who was even worse than . . . well, Ashley Spencer.

Worse than Ashley Spencer? Was there such a thing?

About The Author

Melissa de la Cruz is the #1 bestselling author of books for readers of all ages, including the Witches of East End, Blue Bloods, and Descendants series.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Aladdin (April 7, 2015)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781442490413
  • Grades: 4 - 8
  • Ages: 9 - 13
  • Lexile ® 820L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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